Common Ground

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    • 00:00


    • 00:27

      [the way we live]

    • 00:32


    • 00:35


    • 00:36

      NARRATOR: Pennsylvania Dutch is a German dialect once spokenby most Germanic settlers in southeastern Pennsylvania.

    • 00:42


    • 00:43

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: Yeah, right.

    • 00:45

      NARRATOR: For the majority of Pennsylvanianswho trace their origins to those early settlers,it is a vestige of another era.There is, however, one group whose members continueto speak Pennsylvania Dutch in additionto English, a group that has many cultural points in commonwith other Americans, but which at the same timehas chosen to maintain a number of its own cultural traditions,

    • 01:08

      NARRATOR [continued]: including language.That group is the Amish.

    • 01:18

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: The Amish arevery interesting and colorful and uniquereligious subculture in American society.There are a couple key distinctionsthat set them apart.First of all, they are very rural. [Donald B. Kraybill.Author, The Riddle of Amish Culture]

    • 01:35

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: What I remember growing up is the farm,hard work, and a lot of chores wehad like gathering the eggs daily and milking cows daily.And everything was done by hand. [Paul Schwartz]All the straw was put loose in the barn,and this created a lot of work.And you worked before you went to school.When you came home, you worked until about 10

    • 01:57

      PAUL SCHWARTZ [continued]: or 11 o'clock at night on a daily basis, six days a week.

    • 02:02

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: They wear distinctive dress.It varies from state to state and region to region,but it's very distinctive, plain dress.

    • 02:10

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: Everything was made by my mom.The presents that you got at Christmastimewas things that were new like gloves and boots and thingsthat you needed to do your daily chores.It wasn't a luxury type item, something you wanted.It was more or less things that you needed.

    • 02:27

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: They only go through eighth gradein education.

    • 02:31

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: I had a cousinwho begged to continue her education.Hence, no, did not happen.Now when she was older as an adult and left the faith,she then did go on and get her GED and go on to college.But at the time, no. [Priscilla Schwartz] Eighth grade,it stops and you don't even question it.

    • 02:52

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: And then the last year Iwent to a vocational school.I was always taught and told over and over againthat you don't need to work with your mind, that's not for us.Your destination is to work with your hands,to make a living with your hands.

    • 03:09

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: They do not use automobiles.They don't own automobiles or use tractors for farming,typically.So the horse and buggy become a key symbol of their identity.They do not have church buildings.They worship in their homes.They're organized into small districtsof about 25 or 35 families.

    • 03:30

      NARRATOR: The Amish are a very close-knit community,depending on one another for most of their basic needs.They approach the outside world with a certain degreeof trepidation.

    • 03:42

      KRISTEN SCHWARTZ: In most Amish communities,the outside world is the evil.It's to be avoided.If you leave the Amish church or youstray into the world, [Kristen Schwartz]you're going to be tempted by all these worldly thingsand you're going to leave the faith,and you're not going to be able to find salvation,and all these things.

    • 03:58

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: In modern life,society is diced up and spliced up into different sectors.But in Amish life, it's highly integratedtogether so that family members are also church members,are also neighbors.It's like a social precinct and club and church all wrapped upin one social ball, so to speak, that

    • 04:20

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL [continued]: is just highly tied and highly integrated together.

    • 04:23

      NARRATOR: But to suggest that the Amish are completelycut off from the rest of the world would not be accurate.

    • 04:29

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: The Amish interact with the outside worlda lot, and they would see a lot of positive thingsin terms of modern medicine, the fruits of modern science,technology, things that they borrow.They use chemical fertilizers, for example.They would use scientific formulatedfeeds to feed chickens or cows or steers.

    • 04:50

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL [continued]: So they see a lot of positive things in the outside world.But they screen it, they sort through it,try to decide which of these thingswill be beneficial to their communityor which could be detrimental to it.

    • 05:02

      NARRATOR: The challenge for the Amish, as for all subcultures,is to find a way to, if not fit in,at least coexist with the larger society around themwhile carrying on their own uniquecultural values and traditions.

    • 05:15

      ERICH GOODE: There is a gravitationtoward like-minded individuals who engage in similar behavior.American society is really a mosaic of [Erich Goode, PhD.University of Maryland, College Park]many, many hundreds of different subcultures and groupsthat have very different values and evaluate one anotherin very different ways.

    • 05:36

      NARRATOR: Some argue, however, that despite these differences,all members of the society are connected by a vast arrayof shared cultural components.Values, beliefs, traditions, language, even material goods,the everyday objects that populateour lives, all of these bind the people together.

    • 05:57

      DANIEL J. MONTI JR.: We are in fact, a paradoxical people.That's part of our brains and partof what devils us about ourselves.The people who try to make sense of other people's lives,people like me, are trained to look for differences. [DanielJ. Monti Jr., PhD.Boston University]And we make a big deal often about differencesthat aren't that large.Statistically, we're a lot more alike than we are different.

    • 06:19

      DANIEL J. MONTI JR. [continued]: The differences are real, but they're not that big.

    • 06:22

      AMITAI ETZIONI: Any society, or evencommunity that is going to survive facing challengesfrom tension among the members and from people outside,[Amitai Etzioni, PhD.Author, The Monochrome Society] needs some bonding materialand they come in a variety of shapes.But one of the most important bondsis based on a set of shared values.

    • 06:44

      AMITAI ETZIONI [continued]: It doesn't mean that people have to agree on everything.On the contrary, [INAUDIBLE] any modern societyof any complexity, there are or diversityof viewpoints and opinions.But unless the members share some valuesand share important values, they wouldbe missing one of the major things whichkeep a society together.

    • 07:04

      NARRATOR: While they're an essential elementin any culture, shared values differ from one societyto another.One of the most cherished American values, woven deepwithin the fabric of US culture, is the importanceof individual rights.

    • 07:19

      JAMES ELIAS: As a society, [James Elias, PhD.California State University, Northridge] wehave a very strong basis in and individual rights.Now, if we were to go to another country, let's go to Singapore.It's an absolutely beautiful city.You can walk on the streets of Singaporeat 2:00 in the morning and feel totally safe.

    • 07:39

      JAMES ELIAS [continued]: But in Singapore, there is a video camera on every corner.They are watching what happens there.Singapore outlaws gum.They do not want gum on their sidewalks.How many of your individual rightsare you willing to give up?We could cut crime in half by simply putting video camerason all the corners.

    • 07:59

      JAMES ELIAS [continued]: But would you want to be a camera watchingwhen you came and went?Most people wouldn't.So our issue of individual rightsversus the rights of society become a major concern.

    • 08:14

      DANIEL J. MONTI JR.: One of the ongoing debatesthat we have had among ourselves as a people for betterthan 400 years now is this boundary line between libertyand equality, between having the opportunity to do moreof whatever it is we want to do as a person,and on the other hand, a complimentary setof obligations to do right by other people.

    • 08:37

      NARRATOR: This tension between individual rightsand the common good can be traced to the very roots of USpolitical culture.

    • 08:44

      AMITAI ETZIONI: If you look at the Constitution talkingabout the Declaration of Independence,talking about forming a better union,about the common good, if you look at the Fourth Amendmentand it would be talking about be no unreasonablesearch and seizure, which means of course there arereasonable ones, those in the public interest,I come out of the side of those, and I'm hardly alone,

    • 09:05

      AMITAI ETZIONI [continued]: who think that yes, we have strong individualistic trends.But [INAUDIBLE] American history, raiseconcerns for the common good.And that makes us more individualistic than Franceor Germany, but certainly not result commitment to community.

    • 09:21

      NARRATOR: In the minds of some, however,the balance between liberty and equalityis weighted too strongly in the direction of individual freedomat the expense of society as a whole.

    • 09:32

      SANDRA S. SMITH: Our values are such that we reallyplace the individual as the primary driving forcein that individual's life.So if there are any circumstances thatmight occur for that individual-- decliningfortunes, for instance-- we really expect, as a societywe expect that person to look into themselvesto figure out what it is that they did to bring this about.

    • 09:55

      SANDRA S. SMITH [continued]: We tend not to look at things from a sociological perspectivein terms of larger or broader forces goingon in a society that might have an impact.[Sandra S. Smith, PhD.University of California, Berkeley]So like, a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs,for instance, from the '70s until the '90s.We tend not to think about larger structural forces.And so then we don't have to take

    • 10:16

      SANDRA S. SMITH [continued]: that kind of responsibility, the kind of responsibilitythat other countries and other nations, specificallyplaces in Europe, where they providethis kind of social insurance to almost everyone.

    • 10:28

      NARRATOR: As part of its emphasis on personal freedomand responsibility, US culture promotes the notionthat every American has the opportunity to achieve success,especially in the financial arena.

    • 10:39

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER: It's quite clearthat Americans think of their societyas a classless society, a society of great opportunity.When surveys ask Americans, for example,is this a society of haves and have-nots,Americans overwhelmingly say no, that'snot the way to describe America. [Claude S. Fischer, PhD.University of California, Berkeley]

    • 10:55

      AMITAI ETZIONI: America has hardly no patiencefor the notion of [INAUDIBLE].We hold very highly success, especially material success.Again.More highly than many continental societies,especially in Western Europe.

    • 11:09

      SANDRA S. SMITH: I think the American dream is stilla viable idea.I think that there are opportunitiesto rise above whatever level it was that you were born into.Those opportunities still exist.Today, we can expect that one in every five peoplecan rise from the level into which they were born.But that's less than it was in the past.

    • 11:30

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER: It may well bethat this is a historical hangover,that in the early 19th century, the middle of the 19th century,America was a dramatically more open societythan the societies of Europe.

    • 11:43

      SANDRA S. SMITH: What's happened though,with the decline of industry in our countryand the emergence of the information ageis that the number of opportunities that wehave is actually declined.

    • 11:54

      NARRATOR: The actual opportunitiesmay have diminished, but most Americans cling to the beliefthat material success is a goal worth, pursuingone that is well within the grasp of anyonewilling to work for it.With this emphasis on financial accomplishmentcomes another related aspect of US culture--a focus on consumerism.

    • 12:15

      AMITAI ETZIONI: Sometimes I like to characterize itthat if you came working as a reporter for The Lunar Times,and you had to send back a dispatchabout this bizarre society you're visiting,you would say these people work their back offduring the day to make things they destroy at night,and produce food and clothing and cars

    • 12:35

      AMITAI ETZIONI [continued]: and consume them and work harder to produce more goods so theycan consume more goods.And good parts of our life are dedicated to working hardand then consuming hard.

    • 12:46

      SPEAKER: It's a happy-go-spending world,reflected in the windows of the suburban shopping centerswhere they go to buy.

    • 12:53

      NARRATOR: When America's love affair with consumptionbegan in the 1940s and '50s, somelikened it to a revolution.

    • 13:00

      JAMES GILBERT: We're talking about a revolution in housing.And the way in which housing was transformed from basicallya kind of [James Gilbert, PhD.University of Maryland, College Park]city architecture and city housingto a greatly expanded suburban world.That's one part of the consumer revolution.The second part is of course, automobiles.Television was the third one, which

    • 13:21

      JAMES GILBERT [continued]: brought the house and the car and the road into people'sconsciousness in ways that hadn't been before,and which brought advertising into people's livesin a new kind of way.So those three things, really, I thinkare the engines of the consumer revolution.Now as a consequence of that consumer revolution,you have certain kinds of destruction.

    • 13:42

      JAMES GILBERT [continued]: American cities begin to decline.And city centers become empty.And the creation of a mall, whichcombines the car, the road, and the suburbs as focal points,just takes the economy from the center of the cityand moves it out into the periphery.And there are enormous consequences to that.

    • 14:02

      NARRATOR: Perhaps the most significant outcomeof this wholesale destruction with the ideathat the tangible aspects of cultureare transitory, that nothing lasts forever.

    • 14:13


    • 14:14

      HARVEY MOLOTCH: Just like first nameskeep changing in the United States,no one's naming their child Edith anymore,or Harvey either.Those names are gone.But new names are around, and the namesthat are now around will indeed eventually be phased out.[Harvey Molotch, PhD.Author, Where Stuff Comes From] And Ithink that's a clue to what's going on with productsand artifacts-- a desire for something new,

    • 14:35

      HARVEY MOLOTCH [continued]: in part just because it's new.There's a kind of cynical or sinister wayof thinking about why there is all this change.And that is the phrase, planned obsolescence.That the corporations that make all of this stuffbuild it so that it will be obsolescent by its nature,it contains its own obsolescence.

    • 14:56

      HARVEY MOLOTCH [continued]: They could make it so that it lasts forever,or that you'll never be bored with it,but they don't because they need to make you unhappy with itso that you'll buy still more stuff in the future.

    • 15:08

      NARRATOR: Whether obsolescence is truly planned,or is simply a byproduct of the relentless marchof technological innovation is a subject of debate.But what's clear is that the products used within a culturereveal a great deal about the people who use them.

    • 15:23

      HARVEY MOLOTCH: That means that if youtake a product I'm very fond of using,the toaster, you can understand a lot about this societyby not taking it for granted that of course,everyone would have a toaster and a toaster isn'tworth a second thought.I think a toaster is worth a thousand thoughts.And you can use it to figure out much broader things.So a toaster is an Anglo-American product.

    • 15:45

      HARVEY MOLOTCH [continued]: There are virtually no toasters in Italy,no toasters in France.Italians typically drink coffee standing upat a counter and that's breakfast.Americans have this idealized Ozzieand Harriet view that the family will be all together gatheredaround the table for breakfast.So there's time for a toaster to do its magic work.

    • 16:06

      NARRATOR: Some contend that US culture is focusedon money and consuming to the exclusion of nearly everythingelse.Others, however, argue that thereis a great deal more going on justbeneath the surface of the American cultural landscape.

    • 16:20

      DANIEL RODGERS, PHD: That standard idea about Americansis they're nothing but practical.They're the nation of Henry Ford,the nation of the assembly line, the nation thatlives without complicated philosophies and ideas, whichwe associate with Europeans, with people with ideologies,with people who think too much.I think that's wrong.

    • 16:40

      DANIEL RODGERS, PHD [continued]: I think that Americans live in an extraordinarily complicatedand [Daniel Rodgers, PhD.Princeton elaborate, but to themselvesalmost invisible universe of abstractions.And I think you can see this in any number of ways.

    • 16:55

      NARRATOR: One of the most notable waysis in the American emphasis on religion, which clearlydistinguishes the US from many other modern industrialsocieties.

    • 17:04

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER: Certainly one of the striking thingsabout American life over the last half centuryhas been the persistence of religion.If you look at reports on their behavior,they are as religiously involved as their grandfathersand grandmothers were, an earlier generation.And that is a striking feature of American society

    • 17:24

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER [continued]: that really distinguishes us from other societiesin that Western world.So that Americans today are as likely or more likely to say,for instance, they believe in lifeafter death, about is likely to belong to churches,go to church on Sundays regularly, as was true 30,40 years ago.

    • 17:42

      NARRATOR: The role and influence of religionin European culture, for example,is far less prominent than it is in the US.

    • 17:50

      PETER BERGER: Why is Europe so secular?One fact for certain is church-state relations.In most of Europe, Protestant or Catholic,Western Europe, church and state were very much linked,which means that any political resentments immediatelyled to resentments against the church.Another factor which I'm sure is importantis the role of the intelligentsia in both places.

    • 18:12

      PETER BERGER [continued]: America has been, for most of its history,basically commercial civilization.Intellectuals have not been very influential.In Europe, the intelligentsia hasplayed a much more important role,and has influenced the society.And intelligentsia has always beensecular from 18th century on. [Peter Berger, PhD.Boston University]

    • 18:31

      NARRATOR: The US may be as focused on religionas it has ever been, but the ways in which Americanspractice religion have changed.

    • 18:38

      DEAN HOGE: Now we have more pluralism.We have more religious groups in the United Stateswhich are active and visible and havea claim on the public sphere.This is unprecedented. [Dean Hoge, PhD.Author, Evolving Visions of the Priesthood] So the senseis that we're living in a pluralistic nation, whichactually resembles a pluralistic world.

    • 18:55

      NARRATOR: Along with an increase in pluralismhas come an increase in religious tolerance.

    • 19:00

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER: It used to be the case, for instance,that a majority of Americans wouldsay that they wouldn't vote for a Jew or a Catholicfor president.And now almost everybody says they would.It used to be the case that on surveys, Americanswould say that people had to be Christians in orderto be good people or to be saved,and they tend not to say that now.So that Americans in the end of the 20th century,

    • 19:21

      CLAUDE S. FISCHER [continued]: beginning the 21st century, have an interesting combinationof being religious people but whoseem to accept other people's religion, even if it'sa different theology than their own.

    • 19:32

      NARRATOR: From a cultural standpoint, if nota theological one, there probablyaren't many religious groups in the US consideredmore different than the Amish.

    • 19:41

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: The Amish churchbases its religious teachings on Anabaptist views thatemphasize that the Church is a distinctive [Donald B.Kraybill.Elizabethtown College] social community that'sapart from the world.The Amish talk about separation from the world,things being worldly, meaning theyare part of the mass culture on the outside.And to the Amish way of thinking,

    • 20:03

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL [continued]: the world doesn't mean geography or travel,but it means the larger external societywhere they see abuses, where they see sin,where they see political force, where they see violence.All of those images to them symbolize the worldly waysof the outside society.They tend not to be real judgmental of the outside world

    • 20:26

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL [continued]: or of other religious communities,but they feel that they are called to live faithfullyaccording to the teachings of their church in a way that'sseparate and has boundaries that demarcate their way of lifefrom the outside world.

    • 20:40

      NARRATOR: Those boundaries are especiallyinfluential on the children in Amish family.

    • 20:45

      KRISTEN SCHWARTZ: The Amish youth reallydon't get any preparation for experiencing the outside world.It's not really talked about, it'snot encouraged because they don'twant their youth to do that.So I was reading a story about an Amish youth whodecided to leave, and he didn't knowhow to do simple things, like tip a waitress or use a shower,or [Kristen Schwartz] even just like, phone etiquette, things

    • 21:08

      KRISTEN SCHWARTZ [continued]: like that that we would take for granted,but it wasn't common knowledge to him.In that way, especially as technology advancesit becomes harder and harder for youth to leave.Also, there are things like computers.A lot of them have never used a computer,let alone driven a car.

    • 21:22

      NARRATOR: Despite their lack of social and other skills,Amish children are given an opportunity as teenagersto experience the outside world.In theory at least, this allows themto make a more informed decision about whetheror not to join the Amish church when they become adults.

    • 21:39

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: When Amish young people are 16,they typically begin running around with their friends.And this running around time is known as Rumspringa.It's just been a longstanding traditionin some of the communities that when they begin running around,some of them get some get rebellious.

    • 21:55

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: The Amish youth in their Rumspringingyears, do not have curfews.We were pretty much left to do what wesaw fit. [Priscilla Schwartz]

    • 22:04

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL: The extent to whichthey do it really depends on the particular groupof young Amish people that they are associated with.Parents aren't encouraging them to go out and experimentthe world.The parents are actually often anxious about it, fearfulabout what their kids might do.And in that way, Amish parents are oftenvery similar to American parents who

    • 22:25

      DONALD B. KRAYBILL [continued]: are worried about their teens and what they're going to doand what kind of trouble they might get into.

    • 22:29

      NARRATOR: And yet, the tradition endures.

    • 22:31

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: They believe,you sow your wild oats, you get it all out of your system,and then you'll come back to the church, you'll settle down,you'll be a good little Amish manor woman, you'll raise a family, have kids,and life will be fine.

    • 22:43

      NARRATOR: Most Amish youngsters do eventually decideto join the Amish church.But for some, like Paul and Priscilla Schwartz,the Rumspringa experience marks the first stepson a journey that takes them from one culture to another.

    • 22:57

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: Seeing my one friend my age gettingmarried to a non-Amish person, and hewasn't accepted [Paul Schwartz] into the Amish faith.They gave him a real hard time and made it real hard for him.And I just got a feeling from the heartthat that's not right.That's not what I stand for or believe.

    • 23:18

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: I was the youngest of five kids.And I had three other siblings thathad already left by this time.I had a brother that decided he was going.He fell in love with an Amish girl.And so they put all kinds of restrictions on himas to what he could and could not doand it took him a year and a half,I think something like until they everaccepted him into the church, till he could get married.

    • 23:40

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ [continued]: Because just ridiculous things.

    • 23:43

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: Being Amish is somethingthat you're programmed, and it's somethingthat will never leave you.Even at he age of 30, I was stillgoing to go back Amish, because it was just something you did,it's something you did for your parents.And then the balancing act came, is Ican't live my life for my parents, even though I'm Amish.

    • 24:06

      PAUL SCHWARTZ [continued]: And if I can't be true to my faithand be excited about what I'm doing,I can't be true to my parents or myself.

    • 24:14

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: I realized there's no way I will everbecome a part of that society.And so when we first met and started dating,that was something I told him right away.I'm not going to be Amish.It's not going to happen.

    • 24:30

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: And because of her strong persistenceof not being Amish, it was a decision point of whetheror not to be an Amish by myself or if we'regoing to get married, then we're not going to be Amish.And it was a line that was drawn and I had to make a choice,and I choose to leave the faith at that point over marriage.

    • 24:52

      PAUL SCHWARTZ [continued]: Although they chose not to join the Amish church,Paul and Priscilla Schwartz have retainedmany of the values they learned growing upin Amish families, values like the importance of familyand hard work.Values that apply in both the Amish and the larger USculture.

    • 25:09

      DANIEL J. MONTI JR.: Rich people, poor people,people in the middle, black ones, white ones, green onesor yellow polka dots all find a way of understanding each otherand sharing with each other a set of values,a way of looking at the world, even if theydon't recognize it themselves.They still act that way.We are after all, the most diverse cultureon the face of the earth.We have more different kinds of people living with us,

    • 25:32

      DANIEL J. MONTI JR. [continued]: living among us.And this has been the case for 300 years.We're really pretty good at figuring outways of allowing new and different kinds of peopleto make their own way in this culture.We don't have it right, but we keep working at it.And that's a tribute to a culture that works well.[MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 26:27

      NARRATOR: The Way We Live is a 22 part series about sociology.For information on this program and accompanying materials,call 1-800-576-2988, or visit us online.

Common Ground

View Segments Segment :


The United States has the most diverse culture on earth, with many different people living in the country. These differences are very apparent in religion, and the Amish are the most apparent in their differences. This documentary discusses Amish culture, the American dream, and American consumerism.

Common Ground

The United States has the most diverse culture on earth, with many different people living in the country. These differences are very apparent in religion, and the Amish are the most apparent in their differences. This documentary discusses Amish culture, the American dream, and American consumerism.

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